This year it's Summer Appreciation at Cinematical, but summer doesn't just mean one lumbering tentpole blockbuster after another. In fact, smaller distributors and indie studio arms often use summertime to offer some great low-key alternatives -- not big Oscar contenders, but smaller-profile festival favorites. And this summer is particularly rife with other options if and when you tire of all the sequels and franchises. Here are seven small films -- most but not all of which I've seen -- that you might consider supporting in the next three or four months.
1. The Brothers Bloom (May 15) - Rian Johnson's sophomore feature -- a character-driven fairy tale masquerading as a con man flick -- debuted at Toronto last year to muted acclaim. It's no Brick, but it's actually a fantastic summer offering: sunny, whimsical and bittersweet. Summit was originally set to release the film last fall, then last winter, before finally bumping it to May. It's legitimately funny and whip-smart, which should make it an attractive option in mid-May.
2. Easy Virtue (May 22) - This is one of the most purely entertaining films I saw in Toronto, a supremely witty, very British comedy of errors based on a Noel Coward play. The first film by Priscilla Queen of the Desert's Stephan Elliott since the much-maligned Eye of the Beholder, it's more visually interesting than your average period piece, and features the best performances of Jessica Biel and Colin Firth's careers.
3. Away We Go (June 5) - One of the two films on this list that I am highlighting sight unseen, this is Sam Mendes' unusually prompt follow-up to Revolutionary Road. Co-written by literary funnyman Dave Eggers and his wife, novelist Vendela Vida, it looks like a lovely, contemplative little comedy; I'm also excited that Maya Rudolph is at last getting her richly deserved chance to be a leading lady.
4. Moon (June 12) - This I've seen, and can't wait to see again. It presents a dilemma for reviewers, since virtually any plot description gives away too much, so I'll demur. God knows this summer has plenty of science-fiction to offer, but I can virtually guarantee that none of it will be as brainy or as satisfying as Moon.
5. The Hurt Locker (June 26) - Kathryn Bigelow's first feature in six years is incredibly intense, occasionally to the point of unpleasantness -- so maybe not the best summer diversion. In fact, with Iraq War films' miserable box office track record, an ultraviolent one with no star power seems virtually unmarketable, and I wouldn't be surprised if Summit pushed it out of the summer and into September or October. But whenever it sees the light of day, it's masterful and worth your time.
6. 500 Days of Summer (July 17) - The other movie on this list that I haven't seen, though it seems like everyone else has, and no one has anything bad to say about it. Starring the indie dream team of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, it is apparently a delightful, romantic, singing, dancing good time, with definite sleeper hit potential.
7. Flame & Citron (July 31) - I expected this movie to explode out of Telluride last fall, but what buzz it had sort of fizzled. I thought that this attempt to refashion the World War II film as an unholy alliance of noir and comic book movie was one of the most exciting things I saw in 2008, and I put it on my top 10 list. Looks like it'll hit at least some arthouses this summer, and I strongly recommend it.